Behind the Headlines: Ryan Lochte lands himself in hot water

Behind the Headlines: Ryan Lochte lands himself in hot water

Alice Hawken

Pagefield’s newest recruit Alice Hawken comments on “all this ruckus” created by American Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte. 

What happened?

For the majority of American athletes, the Rio Olympics ended euphorically, as they topped the medal table with an impressive 46 gold medals. One of these golds came from American swimming hero and so-called heartthrob, Ryan Lochte, who along with his fellow teammates won a gold medal in the men’s 4x200m freestyle relay. Lochte originally burst onto the scene in London 2012, winning five medals and ensuring his status alongside Michael Phelps as a golden boy of swimming. Four years later and Lochte’s Rio Olympics have ended under very different circumstances.

The trouble for Lochte began when he alleged that he, along with three of his (lesser-known) teammates, James Feigen, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger, were robbed at gunpoint. A story which garnered much media interest and coverage, it quickly emerged that Lochte’s version of events had been embellished if not, totally fabricated. Following an investigation by the Brazilian authorities it was revealed that the group was not robbed, but instead vandalised a petrol station bathroom whilst drunk, leading them to be detained by security guards. Lochte was forced to apologise, saying he was “110%” sorry, and blaming his immaturity for causing “all this ruckus”, before adding the now infamous anti-apology: “I wasn’t lying to a certain extent”… This expression of mea culpa was clearly not sufficient in the eyes of his sponsors, and this week he lost all four sponsorship deals, which included Speedo USA and Ralph Lauren, worth a total of $1m.


Why is it important?

The Lochte incident has not only generated coverage worldwide, it has in fact distracted from Team USA’s Olympic triumphs. There will be a huge price to pay for Lochte, not only financially – by the loss of sponsors desperate to distance themselves from him – but also personally, as his reputation and credibility are undoubtedly tarnished. Commentators have reacted in amazement that Lochte and his teammates had not only fabricated such a flawed version of events but also decided to continue to spin their story to national media.

However, Lochte is not the first American Olympian, and swimmer for that matter, who has experienced a similar fall from grace. Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, has also faced scandal during the course of his career. In 2009, a photograph of Phelps smoking cannabis led to the loss of Kellogg’s as a sponsor, as well as a three-month suspension from swimming. Five years later, in September 2014, Phelps was arrested on charges of driving whilst intoxicated and speeding. Yet again he was suspended, this time for six months and he was not chosen to represent the USA at the 2015 World Aquatics Championships in August. Phelps certainly needed the six gold medals he won in Rio to help the media and public forget these previous misdeeds.

What’s different about Lochte’s case, is that it was not just a misdemeanour, it was a very deliberate deception.  And – as our own Jeremy Corbyn found out this week through #traingate – in the age of 24/7 news, citizen journalism and CCTV cameras, publicly lying and getting away with it is now very, very difficult.


What’s the reaction been?

As would be expected, due to Lochte’s status, his initial version of the story had already gained significant coverage. This only increased when it emerged that he had clearly, at best, exaggerated the events.

Notable coverage includes Lochte’s interview with NBC (watch here), and Brazil’s largest broadcaster, Globo TV (watch here) where he gave an unconvincing apology saying, “I wasn’t lying to a certain extent.” This interview triggered further scrutiny across media, from The Telegraph, BBC, ABC to the Daily Mail.


Best headline?

The US’ king of satire, Stephen Colbert, made the most of the embarrassing situation, staging a mock interview with Lochte, which inevitably made the rounds on social media.

But the best headline goes to Mike Lupica who wrote: “Swim Shady: Lighten up on Lochte”, from Sports on Earth.


What’s next?

Lochte has little option but to ride out the storm (or swim with the tide if we’re not tired of watery metaphors…), lie low, and hope that as Olympics fervour dies down so will this story. If Phelps’ comeback following his own set of controversies is anything to go by, both Lochte’s career and credibility may not be irreversibly tarnished. The lesson for Lochte to learn here is that when you accept millions of dollars’ worth of sponsorship you also have to accept the responsibility that brand endorsement thrusts upon you. After all, it’s not just your reputation that you need to consider, but that of your Speedos too.